The world’s biggest religious festival, the Kumbh Mela in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state, attracts a whopping 150 million people each year.
Worshippers bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati, from Jan. 15 to March 31. But in the mayhem and massive crowds, many children go missing, some of them trafficked.
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“We have consistently seen that during these events, there is a noticeable spike in the number of children reported missing,” said Smita Dharmamer of Aangan Trust, a charity that works on child protection across six Indian states.
“And while we say missing, the fact is that there are organised groups at work and the children are trafficked.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Many families believe that because they are in a place of faith, that God will protect them, so often ignore safety checklists, anti-trafficking campaigners added.
Practices to protect children that were first developed by the Aangan Trust and used in two separate religious fairs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 2018, have now become the template at the Kumbh Mela.
At the seven booths, housed near the temporary ashrams where pilgrims stay, a database of all children visiting the event will be maintained.
Each child will also be given a detailed identification card that includes the exact ashram where their family are staying.
But often children are unable to remember the name of the ashram where they are staying or their parent’s telephone number, said police officer Neeraj Pandey, who is in-charge of the security at the Kumbh Mela.
While parents have long complained about adolescent girls going missing, it is notable that no human trafficking cases have been filed to date.
Police say this year they’ve setup a police fully computerised network to track children with 14 booths across the festival.
“It seems like a small intervention, but the impact is big,” said Shitla Prasad Pandey, a fourth generation priest at the Kumbh Mela.
“So many sacred activities go on at this event but what can be more sacred than ensuring the safety of children.”